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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Moments after octogenarian Penn State coach Joe Paterno descended from the Kinnick Stadium press box Saturday, his team's national title hopes buried by a chip-shot field goal, septuagenarian -- barely -- Florida State coach Bobby Bowden stood on the field named for him, holding a cake while the Marching Chiefs serenaded him with "Happy Birthday" to commemorate his 79th.
Bowden's Seminoles had just wrapped a 41-27 win against Clemson, the program that pushed his son, Tommy, out the door last month. The win had kept the Seminoles (7-2, 4-2 ACC) alive and kicking in the ACC Atlantic Division race, and, thanks to Iowa, it had allowed Bowden (380 wins) to move within one victory of Paterno's FBS record. Bowden took no joy in Paterno's loss, but Bowden did appreciate the fact that his team finally is playing well enough to get him within striking distance of the head Nittany Lion.
"The only thing that's going to solve that little duel is winning. No matter what happens to him, my team must win," Bowden said. "I saw [the Penn State score]. I like Joe. I was kind of hoping he'd win a national championship this year, but that would be kind of tough now."
Unlike Paterno, who was forced into the press box earlier this season by a hip injury, Bowden has remained on the sideline. He does not, however, spend much time near his wildly gesticulating assistants, a group that includes designated successor Jimbo Fisher. Indeed it was Fisher, FSU's second-year offensive coordinator, who stormed onto the field to protest after a misunderstanding in which he didn't realize both teams had been flagged on the same play. Bowden remained in the background. Still, that doesn't mean the birthday boy didn't have any input.
"A lot of people thing because I'm not down there with the caller of plays … Remember, I've got headphones," Bowden said. "All I've got to do is say, 'Shut up down there.' They hear everything I say…
"And I'll be honest with you. I have reached a point that when I hired these coaches, I was going to let them do it. I felt like they could do it. We're going to pay them enough to do it. And they're going to do it. And they are doing it."
But they aren't doing it without input from the man whose statue stands in front of Doak Campbell Stadium. "This guy, he's 79 going on 30," Fisher said. "He has passion. He has fire. He has desire. … Let me tell you something. A man would be a fool not to listen to all the things he has to teach."